Conquer by the Clock
Encourages American wartime workers to "keep their sleeves rolled up." Describes the volume of industrial and agricultural production that can be accomplished in a single day: enough rifles for a battalion, 1000 acres of corn converted to 30,000 bushels of food."
Calls tired workers, in effect, "saboteurs". Narration admonishes workers for the death of soldiers through inadequate equipment or supplies. Utterly melodramatic. Urges workers to move production forward relentlessly. Says that "the clock" is what will win the war.
"The clock on the wall -- on the 7th day of December, 1941, it struck the eleventh hour. Every hour after that has been, will be, zero hour."
Patriotic discourse today tends to speak in generalities. It asks the public for its mind, rather than its commitment. But the world of Conquer by the Clock is a world at war. Patriotism requires universal, compulsory mobilization of bodies and time. Here allegiance means work rather than words.
In this world time and distance have collapsed. Clocks and long-distance communication networks regulate the world according to a single beat. This is a globalist film, an uncanny precursor both of postwar one-worlder consciousness and the international workplace of the Nineties. "Sunrise over Republic Steel. High noon at Willow Run. Sunfall on the Electric Boat Company. Midnight at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Dawn to dusk, and back to dawn again. Three eight-hour shifts. One day. So much can be done in a day if Americans will keep their sleeves rolled up."
Time, the elusive fourth dimension, is also a commodity: "Every American has his job to do, and the will to do it, and the tools to do it with. Pray God, he also has the time. Time -- the most vital natural resource of a country at war. Every tick of a clock is time won or lost. Every 60-minute sweep, every 12-hour tour of those relentless hands are turning out carload lots of time for us to use ourselves or to give away to the enemy." There are shots of workers running to their jobs, hands picking up hammers, pitchforks, rifles. "Our hands must be as relentless as the hands of our clocks. They cannot afford to be less."
To a strident narration and the beat of pendulums and metronomes, the theme is hammered home. As the advertisements in the supplement entitled "Production: Front-Line Trench" show, this theme filled the wartime media, illustrated by images of clocks and self-sacrificing war workers.
In this vision, there's little difference between the actions of patriotic but thoughtless Americans and Axis saboteurs. The filmÕs flavor is shown by a partial synopsis, written by a wartime reviewer expressing the racism of the time: Òa girl inspecting rifle cartridges in a war plant Ñ a patriotic American Ñ takes time for an extra smoke, neglects to fill her place on the inspection line, and thus allows several boxes of uninspected cartridges to pass as O.K. One of these cartridges, a dud, later finds its way into the rifle of an American soldier somewhere in the South Pacific. On scouting patrol, he sights a Jap, aims, presses the trigger and fires Ñ harmlessly. He is killed by a Jap bullet.Ó
PM, New York's leftwing daily, in its review (on this disc) tried to set the record straight by citing cases of timewasting by corporate management, but ended up by praising the film as "remarkably well conceived, almost like a mechanical symphony, with swift cross-shots of machinery in action, rhythmically and even catchily in time to a musical score."
Similar to many other World War II-era films, Conquer by the Clock equates patriotism with productivity, and reframed the New Deal-era ethic of collective action into a wartime context. Two parables about carelessness and recreation on the homefront are followed by a chorus singing inspirational doggerel in the style of From Dawn to Sunset (see the Capitalist Realism disc).
Steel, might and skill are welded
To win liberty for all.
Let's keep the flame of freedom
Blazing whatever may befall.
Fill every burning moment
Until conquered is the foe
In every time
We fight for time
For we must ever onward go.
You in the field and farmland
and you in the factory
Will help to make men free
Until the victory --
And the hands of a rapidly spinning clock slow down to form a "V."
Director Slavko Vorkapich (1895Ñ1976), was the acknowledged master of "montage sequences" -- image combination and superimposition techniques that infused often quite ordinary movies with moments of abstraction. With Robert Florey and Gregg Toland, he made the early American experimental film The Life and Death of a Hollywood Extra (1928); later, he made his famous contribution to Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur's Crime Without Passion (1934). Besides Conquer by the Clock, he made six other This Is America short subjects for RKO-PathZ<caron>, including Private Smith, U.S.A., Women in Arms, Lieutenant Smith and New Americans. For many years, he wrote and lectured on cinematic form and structure, and taught advanced film students. Since Conquer by the Clock isn't available through current distribution channels, few have seen this example of his work, one of the few films that was all his own. But given Vorkapich's strong opinions about the relationship of art and entertainment, it's worth a look. As he told Thomas M. Pryor of The New York Times (November 26, 1944): "There are moments in every picture but no one picture is completely art. Cutters don't notice the beauty of movement. If a producer were striving for this art he would say to his writers...read only the picture story and not the dialogue. If the images express the ideas it would be art."
Ken Smith sez: The only way we can beat the Axis Powers is to outproduce them. Great editing; script lays the guilt on thick. The kind of melodramatic production most people imagine when they think of a WWII propaganda film. As much fun as spitting in der Fuherer's face.
Pearl Harbor clocks smoking world war II WWII production factories propaganda Montages Visual Effects Surrealism Patriotism Work Labor Time Management Pendulums Victory Danger Lurks
[RKO Pathe presents Conquer by the Clock.]
[Produced by Frederic Ullman, Jr. Directed by Slavko Vorkapich. Written by Phil Reisman, Jr. Photographed by Larry O'Reilly. Edited by John Hoffman. Musical Score by Erno Rapee.]
The clock on the wall. On the seventh day of December 1941, it struck the eleventh hour. Every hour after that has been, will be, zero hour. [WAR clocks wall calendars time teletypes newspaper offices city rooms news bulletins United States declares typing newspaper headlines]
Forty-eight United States of a free and sovereign America are at war. Every American has his job to do, and the will to do it, and the tools to do it with. Pray God he also has the time. [The New York Sun Jap Planes Bomb Manila U.S. Declares War arms rolling up sleeves working war mobilization war effort hammers tools sledgehammers picks forks rifles farmers workers soldiers pendulums clocks]
Time, the most vital natural resource of a country at war. Every tick of the clock is time won or lost. Every sixty-minute sweep, every twelve-hour tour of those relentless hands is turning out carload lots of time for us to use ourselves or to give away to the enemy. [clocks hands montages Black workers African American workers shoveling coal furnaces motors engines]
[machinery ladles metals goggles heavy industry assembly manufacturing grinding Rosie the Riveter women workers welding pipes]
All the scientific devices of chronology are machines manufacturing time - the tool that in our hands means victory, and our hands must be as relentless as the hands of our clocks. They cannot afford to be less. [clocks superimposed montages globes sundials filing files metronomes rhythm beating]
Sunrise over Republic Steel. High noon at Willow Run. Sunfall on the Electric Boat company, midnight at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Dawn to dusk, and back to dawn again. Three eight-hour shifts, one day. So much can be done in a day if Americans will keep their sleeves rolled up. [bolts nuts rotation turning smokestacks skies steel mills Ford Motor Company bombers submarines New London, Connecticut Detroit, Michigan Brooklyn, New York shipyards guards sentries shipbuilding]
Inside of twenty-four hours, one-twentieth of a freighter or a tanker can be built. Within those same twenty-four hours a squadron of tanks can roll off the assembly line and a flight of bombers made ready from radio to rudder bolt. In one day a thousand acres of corn can become thirty thousand bushels of food. [shipyards cranes factories airplanes aircraft farming combines harvesting agriculture]
In one day one plant unit can turn out enough rifles to equip a battalion of infantry - the men who in one day might win a war, or lose it. [lathes woodworking gunstocks soldiers marching]
How? Well, let's visit upstate, at a factory where they make 30-caliber rifle cartridges for the Army. Let's visit Jean, one of the girls who inspects these cartridges before they're shipped. [women workers]
She's a good kid, loves her country, and a guy named Joe. He gave her that pin she's wearing before he went to Australia. She's a good kid, honest, intelligent, but she gets tired in the afternoon sometimes, likes to take extra time off for a smoke. That's all, only a few minutes - a few minutes. It only takes a second to jar the primer out of a cartridge. [defects quality mistakes errors duds]
And it only takes a second to put an okay ticket on a lot that should have been rejected. [inspection inspected]
A cartridge without a primer is one that will never fire. It's about as useful in a rifle as a cigarette or as the minutes that go up in its smoke. [smoking]
One bad cartridge, one chance in a million to get by undetected. One second in sixty, one girl out of a hundred who is an honest, patriotic intelligent saboteur. [assembly lines]
[smoke montage Salvador Dali surrealism melting clocks]
Yes, Jean is intelligent, intelligent enough to know that one of these bullets in good condition can travel three miles. But she doesn't know that a defective one can go halfway 'round the world. [railroads boxcars transportation ships globes]
Somewhere in the Pacific, somewhere between the Devil and the Dutch East Indies is an American scouting patrol.
[patrol soldiers combat U.S. Army jungle Japanese soldiers military fighting death killing casualties rifles gunshots]
Too bad about that cartridge missing fire. It should have been rejected. It would have been too, if a girl named Jean hadn't taken time out to smoke. [guilt]
Now meet JG, General Manager of a large wholesale food house - makes twelve thousand a year, worn a white collar all his life, that is except for the khaki one he wore in 1918. Tried to get in this scrap after Pearl Harbor, but they said his son could handle the fighting orders, and he could go on taking food orders like this - fifty cases of 14-A1. That's code for lifeboat provisions. Notify Martin. That means ship on Monday. [executives management offices pictures soldiers photographs telegrams Postal Telegraph]
Too old, too old to fight, but not too old to work yourself silly trying to get out orders and priorities on time. Time. Holy mackerel! It's two-thirty. I'll have to rush like Old Harry to make it.
Better tell Mabel where I'll be. Oh no no no. Why bother? It's Saturday - that lifeboat stuff doesn't go out 'til Monday. Nothing can come up over the weekend. Besides, I've got an important engagement with a couple of guys. Important engagement with a couple of guys! [clocks]
A couple of guys on the home team. Well they are leading the league, and it's his first Saturday off in four months, and there's nothing that can't wait nine innings - nothing that is except time - time and tide, and convoys. A change in sending orders and an urgent wire in code. Lifeboat supplies, to be shipped at once - shipped by a man who is busy coaching at first base. [baseball games clocks stadium ballparks sliding bases home telegrams Saturday 8 August 1942]
Unfortunately a convoy can't wait for the last inning. A convoy waits for the tide, and the tide waits for no man. Standing beside a lifeboat only partly provisioned, six American fliers sail for Ireland in convoy on a freighter that falls behind its escort. It's an old story.
[submarine attack periscopes U-boats torpedoes firing explosions smoke lifeboats rescues]
Six men sail for Ireland. Two of them got there. One of them out of his mind. The other one dead. Twenty-five days in a boat provisioned for ten days. [death watches]
The tide rolls in, JG, and the clock ticks on, and neither one in peace or war will wait for nine innings.
The state of North Australia is twenty-three time zones away from the state of Michigan. But the clock in the cockpit of the plane over Darwin and the watch on the wrist of the officer in New Guinea are synchronized with the clock at the door of the factory in Detroit and, and geared to the clock over the watercooler in Kalamazoo. [globe time zones montages clocks surrealism clouds skies airplanes time clocks timeclocks]
The production rate of our factories and the firing rate of our guns is synchronized by one machine. The clock. This is the machine that manufactures victory, turning out thirty-two and a half million seconds each year. Each separate tick a precious tool to use in building our future. [workers running changing shifts shift changes punching time clocks timeclocks]
And you - these are your tools, your hands. And they must be as relentless as the hands of your clocks. If we are to conquer, they cannot afford to be less.
Steel, might and skill are welded [shoveling coal songs]
To win liberty for all.
Let's keep the flame of freedom Blazing whatever may befall.
Fill every burning moment Until conquered is the foe
In every time We fight for time
For we must ever onward go.
You in the field and farmland and you in the factory
Will help to make men free Until the victory -
[steel mills steelworkers foundries hammering grinding welding welders The End rolling mills camshafts workers V clocks marching soldiers airplanes]
Subject: 1943 Academy Award
Subject: Work 24 Hours a Day Without a Break or Help the Axis Kill Our Boys!
Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: ***. Weirdness: ***. Historical Interest: *****. Overall Rating: ****.
Subject: Time Present Becomes Time Past
Subject: Oh Jean!